Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I spent the last two days in a sea of orange, walking under the sun with Cambodian monks, and my camera. We started at sunrise in the pagoda, had breakfast, and continued on to the messy roads of Phnom Penh.
Monks are lovely people. They are not allowed to touch or be touched by women (which made it quite difficult to shoot in a sea of them) but I found friendship in the strangest ways. In the quiet times when the walk wasn't too exhausting, they'd tug on my backpack, take photos of me with their phones, throw me a can of Red Bull, and ask questions about the Philippines. My own curiosity met theirs, and for the moments of banter, I would forget that there was a demonstration. It's easy to, when you're seated on the asphalt, watching Khmer boxing on a monk's iPad.
I feel incredibly lucky that I get to bear witness to things like this. It's allowed me to ask more questions, and answer a few as well.
'What is your name?'
'Where you from?'
'Ohh, you are Philippine!'
'I thought you were Khmer people. My people.'
'I know, most Khmer people think the same.'
'We are! Same, same. but different.'
And we marched on.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Child holding freshly castrated pig testicles. Yep.
It's been a month now. Cambodia is so coy and so beautiful, and I somehow constantly feel like I am in another time.
We headed east, to Mondulkiri. They call it the Serengeti of Asia. It has the least number of people in any province in Cambodia, which on its own feels sparsely populated. Within it is a protected area that has tigers, sun bears, wild elephants, and jungle cats roaming freely in the largest remaining dry-forest ecosystem in Asia. The earth is red, and it feels like another world.
I fell asleep in this little cabin, to the sound of the woods, and a Khmer wedding in the distance. For a moment, I felt guilty for feeling right at home, but that feeling went away as soon as I placed my hand beneath the cold pillow. I know I never want to forget where I grew up, and part of me wants to see only one place as home. But I don't know how sincere that can be. I come across magic places, people whose smiles feel like open arms, and roads that promise things to me. I know the feeling that home must elicit, and I know that this feeling belongs to more than one place, and more than one person.
It felt good to travel somewhere that was just very different from everything I was familiar with, and to be around people who didn't speak my own language. I always feel like this helps me become more sensitive to what people are really trying to tell me outside of their words. It teaches me to be gentle and careful, and more understanding. To be a human first before taking the photo. To know when to put the camera down and just appreciate how to go slow. And even if I couldn't stay as long as I wanted, it was just lovely to be reminded of these important things.
And at the end of it all, they shared with us this incredible experience.
When the Khmer Rouge took power, some of these people took to the jungle and sought the protection of the elephants. Today, Mondulkiri is home to several elephants that are treated as the mahout's brother. We rode bareback for a whole day across landscapes that stretched on like a savannah. We went inside the jungle and I panicked as Pon, my 8-foot tall elephant, went off course for half the day, and decided he wanted to eat instead of trek. I thought I was going to fall, and I am still unreasonably terrified of finding land mines. I wish I could say I took a lot of photographs, but it just was not possible to use my hands for anything else other than keeping my balance. It took a bit of time for me to let go of all my qualms, and to just enjoy it.
I was after all, crossing one thing off my bucket list, and busy worrying away what became one of the best days of my life.
In the middle of the jungle was this stream, and we washed away the red dust.
I heard a fireside chat, I saw a baseball bat
And I just laughed till I thought I'd die
But I be done seen about everything
When I see an elephant fly
But I be done seen about everything
When I see an elephant fly
--When I See an Elephant Fly, Dumbo
The elephant's mahout, trekking behind me and the elephant in a stretch of wildflowers
We rode off at dusk, over the landscape with spirit houses and painted elephants, and I understood that I wasn't in another world. I am in the same one--just in a part that was far away from the bit where I came from
Sunday, November 03, 2013
I went to the Killing Fields and to S21 last week.
I don't know how to write about it...
I stood by this tree where they beat babies against and threw them in a pit with their frightened mothers. When they found this tree, there were brains and bones caught in the bark. I took a photo and I wept.
'Why would you go there, Hannah? Why do you want to make yourself sad?'
"The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, in which approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21% of the country's population), was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. As in the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian genocide, in Nazi Germany, and more recently in East Timor, Guatemala, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot combined extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale. On July 18, 2007, Cambodian and international co-prosecutors at the newly established mixed UN/Cambodian tribunal in Phnom Penh found evidence of "crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, homicide, torture and religious persecution."
Victims and survivors still roam the streets of my new city. They speak about these terrors, but they do so with such grace. After all of it, I went home and I just fell asleep, and I haven't stopped reading about the holocaust since.
“To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.”
― Khmer Rouge
Monday, September 30, 2013
When I was a little girl, I would play with clay pots, put water and leaves and flowers in them, lay them over giant roots, and pretend I was brewing something magical. Tea that could, perhaps, take me to the place where the koalaphants lived? Maybe if I added the honey of four santan flowers into the pot, then it could give me eyes that changed colours each time I blinked? And if I chalked the pot yellow, then it could maybe transform anything inside it into yellow paint that would make anyone happy if they painted their nails with it?
On Friday I met these potters. Little girl Hannah would have been bright eyed. They were making containers for otherworldly things. If only they knew it, too.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I'm not as good with words as you are but this is my best attempt at a love letter. I was very lonely and my camera helped me make sense of it.
Copenhagen, Aalborg, Berlin 2013
“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don't worry...I'm here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”
― Charles M. Schulz